On Stage: Aziza Nailah brings music back to The Queen

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Aziza Nailah

Live music is starting to slowly return after being relegated to the trash heap for more than a year because of COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

This weekend, there are a variety of shows around the area including several that can be classified as “firsts” – including Aziza Nailah’s show at The Queen and shows at the Sellersville Theater featuring the Nighthawks and John Kadlecik.

The show on April 3 at The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, https://thequeenwilmington.com) is billed as “Opening Night: Aziza Nailah & Company.”

The Queen has gone through various incarnations since it opened on April 1, 2011 – including various owners and promoters. The show on April 3 will be the first post-pandemic-shutdown concert at the comfortable venue in downtown Wilmington. It will also be Nailah’s first show in front of a paying audience.

“I did my first solo gig in 2017 right after I had my youngest child,” said Nailah, during a phone interview Tuesday evening from her home in Wilmington. “It was at a restaurant on the Riverfront in Wilmington.”

Nailah’s live performances started when she was very young, but it took a long time for her involvement to evolve to where it is today.

“I can remember the beginning stages,” said Nailah. “I can remember as far back as kindergarten being in a play. Then, throughout grade school and high school, I’d put on talent shows.”

Then, the real world interrupted her world as a performer, and she has spent the last 18 years as a single mom.

“My oldest daughter Sanya is 18,” said Nailah, who works as a para-educator with kids ages three to five. “My son Anthony is 16 and plays several varsity sports at Mount Pleasant High. My baby girl is Savannah, and she is four now.

“I moved to Wilmington in 2011 and didn’t think about performing — until I lost my job a few years ago. I had gotten fired unfairly and that sent me into a period of depression. My mom told me to try karaoke. When I did that, I realized that music was therapy.

“I started doing karaoke in 2015. I was living in North Wilmington and I walked over to the bar across the street to do it. That bar – Shades of Blue – isn’t there anymore. Doing karaoke was great. I gave myself my own natural therapy.

“People told me I should be doing more than singing karaoke – that I should be singing in a band. Members of the Delaware band Best Kept Soul used to frequent that bar and they told me the same thing.

“I dibbled and dabbled to see if I fit in singing with a band – and I didn’t fit in. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

“I began working with local artist and bands such as Richard Raw, Jae Focus, Ladyy and Best Kept Soul. I worked with Richard Raw for a while and then I embarked on being really solo.

“I still wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue a career as a solo artist. Then I did my first solo gig with my band in 2017 and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Nailah’s repertoire is based on classic R&B and soul music – acts such as Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin and Jill Scott.

“They’re all influences along with Shemekia Copeland, Mary J. Blige and Adele,” said Nailah, who grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia and graduated from Philly’s Youthville Charter School.

“All that I knew growing up was Mary J. Blige from my mom because she was one of my mother’s favorites. My mom sang in church and graduated from The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts where she studied singing.”

Nailah is living up to the name given her by her mom.

The name Aziza is of Arabic origin and means “most cherished and beloved.” It is also a palindrome. Nailah is name that means “destined to succeed” – “acquirer,” “obtainer,” “winner” — in both Arabic and Urdu.

“I was given a name that means a precious one who succeeds,” said Nailah.

Nailah, who has also achieved success as a songwriter, composer and vocal instructor, will perform at The Queen with her own band — Aziza Nailah & Company!

“I’m definitely an R&B/soul kind of girl,” said Nailah. “But the set I’m doing at The Queen will also have a Lenny Kravitz song. I like to mix it up.

“Performance is my way to escape day-to-day life – to do what I want to do. The show at The Queen is giving me motivation to do more. This whole show is about me. I’m being selfish – and that’s O.K.”

Video link for Aziza Nailah – https://youtu.be/rl7GVDczLwM.

The show at The Queen on April 3 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Other upcoming shows at The Queen are Maya Belardo on April 9, Ladyy on April 17, Best Kept Soul on April 23 and Funkitorium on April 30.

John Kadlecik

On April 1, the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will present a show billed as “John Kadlecik Solo Acousti’Lectric.”

Kadlecik has an extensive musical resume – much of which relies heavily on association with the Grateful Dead.

He was a founding member of Dark Star Orchestra, one of the country’s premier Grateful Dead tribute bands. DSO formed in 1997 and Kadlecik was a member until 2009.

According to his website bio, “John Kadlecik is a singer, songwriter, and musician based in the DC-area who can play most string instruments but is primarily known for being a guitar-slinging sideman to Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir in the band Furthur.

“An original co-founder of the group Dark Star Orchestra, John has been performing improvisational-oriented shows regularly since the late 1980’s and touring nationally for the last 20 years. His work also includes several studio releases of original music.

“He is currently active with Melvin Seals and JGB in addition his own group, The John Kadlecik Band. He also plays with the supergroup, the Golden Gate Wingmen, and occasionally with Phil Lesh & Friends.”

Amazingly, despite performing on the road for almost a quarter-century, Kadlecik will be making his Sellersville Theater debut this week.

“This is the first time I’ll be playing at the Sellersville Theater and I’m looking forward to it,” said Kadlecik, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from his home in Takoma Park, Maryland.

“I didn’t really know about the theater. I found the place when I was stopping for breakfast. When I’m on the road, I always look for good breakfast places and this one was about a half-hour from my hotel.

“I parked for the restaurant and it was across the street from the theater. I checked it out and realized it had rock shows there. So, I got in contact with them when I got home.”

With some states loosening restrictions on gatherings, opportunities to play have begun to appear.

“I’m booked pretty much every weekend through June,” said Kadletic, who grew up in the Midwest – mostly Chicago.

“I’m one of the few D.I.Y. guys from the 80s and 90s that got national. Next week, I’ll be in Denver to play at the Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Revue. There will be two shows a day for four days.”

Even though his DSO days are more than a decade in the past, Kadlecik still has a lot of band activity.

“I have the John Kadlecik Band – although the players are scattered around the country,” said Kadlecik. “I have the Golden Gate Wingmen which started in 2014 and has all members who have played with the Dead. There is also a spinoff band — the Fellowship of the Wing — if I have to substitute.

“My main gig is waiting to again play with Melvin Seals, who is the keyboard player with JGB. That’s my main priority. Things might be happening in the fall.”

For now, there are only solo gigs for Kadlecik.

“One thing I like about solo gigs is that I can play nice venues that now have reduced capacity,” said Kadlecik. “With solo, I know 500 songs that I can just play. I don’t have to call anyone to rehearse.

“When I do a solo show, I use guitar, synth and looping. I can create drums and piano. And with looping, I can build a big wall of sound.”

Video link for John Kadlecik – https://youtu.be/LG5ebgd9KAc.

The show at Sellersville Theater on April 1 will start at 8 p.m. and will be both live and Livestream. Tickets for the theater are $25. Livestream tickets are $15. 

The Nighthawks

The Nighthawks are band from Washington, D.C. that has built a reputation as a top-flight live act performing blues, roots and blues-rock music. On New Year’s Eve 2021/2022, the Nighthawks — Mark Wenner (vocals and harmonica), Dan Hovey (lead guitar), Paul Pisciotta (bass guitar), and Mark Stutso (drums) — will celebrate their 50th anniversary.

The Nighthawks’ show at the Sellersville Theater on April 3 will be the group’s first show at the venue since the pandemic shutdown began – the first show in more than a year – the first time in recent years that the band has gone a full calendar year without a show there.

“It’s been a long time since we played there,” said lone remaining founding member Wenner, during a phone interview Monday evening from his home in Kensington, Maryland. “We’ve played the Sellersville Theater a lot – including two times with Billy Price.”

The Nighthawks, who had their start in 1972, have been around a lot longer than the Sellersville Theater, which opened as a music venue in 2001. The band has had many incarnations and the present line-up is one of the best.

“The current lineup has been together about two years,” said Wenner. “Dan and Paul joined in 2018 and Mark has been in the band for 10-11 years. I’m 49 years in. In the scheme of things, there really hasn’t been that many different main lineups.”

The original Nighthawks lineup solidified in mid-1974. Bringing together frontmen Mark Wenner and Jimmy Thackery with a veteran rhythm section — Jan Zukowski on bass and Pete Ragusa on drums — the quartet ruled the highways and honky-tonks until Thackery’s departure in 1986 to pursue a solo career.

The band opened many doors and forged many touring routes for their contemporaries, including the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray, and played with as many blues and rockabilly legends as they could. They opened frequently for acts such as Muddy Waters, James Cotton and Carl Perkins, and also backed up and recorded with John Hammond and Pinetop Perkins.

“In the first year-and-a-half, we played once a week and guitar players and bass players came and went,” said Wenner. “In 1974, we solidified a four-piece band and recorded an album.”

That album was titled “Rock’n’Roll.” The Nighthawks have released 28 albums since. In 2011, their album, “Last Train to Bluesville” won the Acoustic Album of the Year at the 32nd Blues Music Awards, sponsored by the Blues Foundation.

“In the 70s, we worked a lot with Elvin Bishop, Pinetop Perkins and John Lee Hooker,” said Wenner. “We got to be the house band for Rosebud Agency. They were using us as the East Coast band for their acts and they all had other bands on the West Coast. We went from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Key West with Elvin Bishop.

“In 1976, we went from Boston to Atlanta and in 1978 played Colorado and Texas. In 1981 we went from Seattle to San Diego. As we got a little older, we started lopping off longer portions. It’s been 35 years since we played the Pacific Northwest.

“We did play in Louisiana for 20 years. We did 10 Mardi Gras in a row starting in 1978. We’d play Tipitina’s on Thursday and Friday and do a show in Baton Rouge on Saturdays. Then, we’d come back to Now Orleans to party for Mardi Gras.

“In the first 14 years with Jim Thackery, we played 49 states and 10 countries. We built a foundation and have been exploring it ever since.”

The band’s most recent album is “Tryin’ To Get To You,” which was produced by David Earl and The Nighthawks and recorded at Severn Sound Studio. The album’s 13 tracks showcase the breadth and expertise of the band in its explorations of all branches of roots music.

“The album was released on April 15, 2020,” said Wenner. “It’s a really good album. But, by April 15, everything was non-existent.

“This was the first album with the current group. This unit I’ve got is really good – so interactive, so creative, so musical. Two guys writing and four-part harmony – it’s a great version. We’ve made that a real focus of the band.”

The Nighthawks are a band that is conscious of its sound – a roots band rather than a jam band.

“There are no lengthy solos,” said Wenner. “There is no shredding. We play songs with a structure.”

Video link for the Nighthawks — https://youtu.be/Lr8lvxQVPdY.

The show at Sellersville Theater on April 3 will start at 8 p.m. and will be both live and Livestream. Tickets for the theater are $25. Livestream tickets are $12.50. 


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